Newmarket // Mike de Kock is an exponent of heart-rate monitors and the latest training methods, but he will need to use all of his skills if Igugu is to prevail in her first run in five months at Newmarket on Friday.
De Kock saddles the former South African champion mare in the Rosemary Stakes, a Listed contest over a mile that has attracted 10 rivals, including Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid’s Estiqaama and Lanansaak, and Godolphin’s 2012 UAE Oaks winner Falls Of Lora and Expressly.
Igugu has not raced in 152 days, since finishing down the field at Hong Kong in April. In addition to her extended holiday at Newmarket, she has had to overcome her well-documented problems of continuing to be out of sync for much of the winter and spring.
The quiet surrounds of Abington Place at Newmarket have regularly acted as a serene backdrop for older mares.
Ortensia, the 2012 Al Quoz Sprint winner, relished it as a base for launching her largely successful sprint campaign last season, as did Black Caviar, the Australian sprint sensation, and Igugu has thrived there for the first time since leaving South Africa.
De Kock has given her every chance to prove herself. Friday’s assignment is a significant lowering of her sights. It will be the first time she has raced outside Group class since 2010 and with a mere £20,983 (Dh123,525) set aside for the winner, it will be the cheapest purse the mare has contested since she won a Grade 2 at Turffontein in December 2011.
De Kock, and Steve Jell, his assistant, use digital systems to gauge the relative fitness of their horses, but even in this heightened technological age, the assessment of whether an equine athlete is totally fit is still an inexact science.
“She has done a lot of work and I wouldn’t want to put my neck on the line to say how I think she will run,” Jell said. “She’s a big strapping mare that needs a lot of work, and we’ve got stuck into her, but we’ll see how she runs.”
Soft Falling Rain is already a race ahead of his stablemate, having conceded his unbeaten streak accumulated in South Africa and Dubai when beaten by Princess Haya of Jordan’s Gregorian at Newbury last month.
He lines up on the same card against six others in the Group 2 Nayef Joel Stakes, a race De Kock won in 2008 with subsequent Dubai World Cup Carnival runner Eagle Mountain.
The UAE 2,000 Guineas winner had not raced since triumphing at Meydan Racecourse in the Godolphin Mile, and 140 days later he ended up in the lead too early in the seven-furlong Hungerford Stakes.
He raced with his head low, as if something was amiss, but De Kock has no worries going into the race.
“I’m very happy with the horse,” De Kock said. “He’s going the right way and he will strip fitter for his run at Newbury.
“This will be a good test for him over a stiff mile, but we’re hopeful that he will run well and this will help plan his programme for the rest of the season.”
US MOVES TO BAN ANY USE OF STANOZOLOL
American racing has moved towards a total ban on the anabolic steroid stanozolol.
The board of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC) last week in Denver, Colorado, voted unanimously to recommend that stanozolol be eliminated from the substances threshold list.
Stanozolol is currently allowed to be administered to racehorses up to 30 days prior to racing, and they can compete with trace levels in their system on raceday.
These regulations are similar to those that formerly were in place in the UAE, which outlawed its usage in May.
The RMTC will present this revision to the Association of Racing Commissioners International for its adoption.
If the removal of the threshold system is implemented, stanzolol will become, in effect, a prohibited substance in racing jurisdictions in America that adopt the recommendation.
The RMTC comprises 24 stakeholders in American racing, including some of the most important with regard to banning stanozolol from top-flight competition.
Among those represented by RMTC are Breeders’ Cup Limited, the California Thoroughbred Trainers, the Thoroughbred Club of Del Mar and Churchill Downs, where the Kentucky Derby is staged, and the New York Racing Association, which governs the Belmont Stakes.
The board also voted to support the effort for nationwide adoption of uniform medication rules, an inconsistency that has blighted American racing.
The RMTC, which traces its formation to 2001, works to develop and promote uniform rules to ensure the integrity of racing in the US.
“I am very proud of what the RMTC has accomplished since its inception,” Dr Bobby Lewis, the departing chairman of the RMTC board, said. “I look forward to seeing the implementation of the National Uniform Medication programme that has been the focus of much of our work.”